Tags: chloeweil

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100 words 091

It’s the summer solstice, the longest day of the day.

Last year I spent the summer solstice visiting a telescope in the woods outside Riga:

we were inside the observatory getting a tour of the telescope at the precise moment that the astronomical summer began.

Later that evening, when I was back in my hotel room, I fired off a quick DM to Chloe, simply saying “Happy Birthday!” (it’s an easy date to remember).

She responded the next day with a curiously distant message. “Thanks Jeremy. Hope you’re well.”

And that was the last DM I ever got from Chloe.

It’s the end of the year as we know it.

It’s the last day of the year. I won’t be going out tonight. I’m going to stay in with Jessica in our cosy home.

The general consensus is that 2014 was a crappy year for human beings on planet Earth. In actuality, and contrary to popular belief, the human race continued its upward trend of improvement in almost all areas. Less violence, less disease, fewer wars, a record-breaking minimum of air crashes, and while the disparity between the richest and the poorest has increased, the baseline level of what constitutes poverty continues to increase throughout the world.

This trend is often met with surprise, or even disbelief. Just ask Matt Ridley and Steven Pinker. We tend to over-inflate the negative and undervalue the positive. And we seem to do it more and more with each passing year (which, in itself, can be seen as part of the overall positive trend: the fact that violence and inequality outrages us now more than ever is, on balance, a good thing). It seems to be part of our modern human nature to allow the bad to overwhelm the good in its importance.

Take my past year, for example. There was so much that was good. It was a good year for Clearleft and I travelled to marvellous places (Tel Aviv, Munich, Seattle, Austin, San Diego, Riga, Freiburg, Bologna, Florida, and more). I ate wonderful food. I read. I wrote. I listened. I spoke. I attended some workshops. I ran some workshops. I learned. I taught. I went to some great events. I organised Responsive Day Out 2 and dConstruct. I even wrote the occasional bit of code.

But despite all of that, 2014 is a year that feels dominated by death.

It started at the beginning of the year with the death of Jessica’s beloved Oma. The only positive spin I can put on it is that she had a long life, and she died surrounded by her family (Jessica included). But it was still a horrible event.

For the first half of the year, the web community was united behind Eric as he went through the unimaginable. Then, in June, Rebecca died. And the web community was united in sorrow. It was such an outrage against all that is good in this world.

I visited Eric that day. I tried to convey how much the people of the web were feeling for him. I couldn’t possibly convey it, but I had to try. I offered what comfort I could, but some situations are so far beyond normalcy that literally nothing can be done.

That death, the death of a child …there’s something so wrong, so obscene about it.

One month later, Chloe killed herself.

I miss her. I miss her so much.

So I understand why, despite the upward trends in human achievement, despite all the positive events of the last twelve months, 2014 feels like a year of dread and grief. I understand why so many people are happy to see the back of 2014. Good riddance, right?

But I still don’t want to let the bad—and boy, was it ever bad—crush the good. I’m seeing out the year as I mean to go on: eating good food, drinking good wine, reading, writing, and being alive.

It’s the last day of the year. I won’t be going out tonight. I’m going to stay in with Jessica in our cosy home.

Stupid brain

I went to the States to speak at the Artifact conference in Providence (which was great). I extended the trip so that I caould make it to Science Hack Day in San Francisco (which was also great). Then I made my way back with a stopover in New York for the fifth and final Brooklyn Beta (which was, you guessed it, great).

The last day of Brooklyn Beta was a big friendly affair with close to a thousand people descending on a hangar-like building in Brooklyn’s naval yard. But it was the preceding two days in the much cosier environs of The Invisible Dog that really captured the spirit of the event.

The talks were great—John Maeda! David Lowery!—but the real reason for going all the way to Brooklyn for this event was to hang out with the people. Old friends, new friends; just nice people all ‘round.

But it felt strange this year, and not just because it was the last time.

At the end of the second day, people were encouraged to spontaneously get up on stage, introduce themselves, and then introduce someone that they think is a great person, working on something interesting (that twist was Sam’s idea).

I didn’t get up on stage. The person I would’ve introduced wasn’t there. I wish she had been. Mind you, she would’ve absolutely hated being called out like that.

Chloe wasn’t there. Of course she wasn’t there. How could she be there?

But there was this stupid, stupid part of my brain that kept expecting to see her walk into the room. That stupid, stupid part of my brain that still expected that I’d spend Brooklyn Beta sitting next to Chloe because, after all, we always ended up sitting together.

(I think it must be the same stupid part of my brain that still expects to see her name pop up in my chat client every morning.)

By the time the third day rolled around in the bigger venue, I thought it wouldn’t be so bad, what with it not being in the same location. But that stupid, stupid part of my brain just wouldn’t give up. Every time I looked around the room and caught a glimpse of someone in the distance who had the same length hair as Chloe, or dressed like her, or just had a bag slung over hip just so …that stupid, stupid part of my brain would trigger a jolt of recognition, and then I’d have that horrible sinking feeling (literally, like something inside of me was sinking down) when the rational part of my brain corrected the stupid, stupid part.

I think that deep down, there’s a part of me—a stupid, stupid part of me—that still doesn’t quite believe that she’s gone.

Other days, other voices

I think that Mandy’s talk at this year’s dConstruct might be one of the best talks I’ve ever heard at any conference ever. If you haven’t listened to it yet, you really should.

There are no videos from this year’s dConstruct—you kind of had to be there—but Mandy’s talk works astoundingly well as a purely audio experience. In fact, it’s remarkable how powerful many of this year’s talks are as audio pieces. From Warren’s thoughtful opening words to Cory’s fiery closing salvo, these are talks packed so full of ideas that revisiting them really pays off.

That holds true for previous years as well—James Burke’s talk from two years ago really is a must-listen—but there’s something about this year’s presentations that really comes through in the audio recordings.

Then again, I’m something of a sucker for the spoken word. There’s something about having to use the input from one sensory channel—my ears—to create moving images in my mind, that often results in a more powerful experience than audio and video together.

We often talk about the internet as a revolutionary new medium, and it is. But it is revolutionary in the way that it collapses geographic and temporal distance; we can have instant access to almost any information from almost anywhere in the world. That’s great, but it doesn’t introduce anything fundamentally new to our perception of the world. Instead, the internet accelerates what was already possible.

Even that acceleration is itself part of a longer technological evolution that began with the telegraph—something that Brian drove home in in his talk when he referred to Tom Standage’s excellent book, The Victorian Internet. It’s probably true to say that the telegraph was a more revolutionary technology than the internet.

To find the last technology that may have fundamentally altered how we perceive the world and our place in it, I propose the humble gramophone.

On the face of it, the ability to play back recorded audio doesn’t sound like a particularly startling or world-changing shift in perspective. But as Sarah pointed out in her talk at last year’s dConstruct, the gramophone allowed people to hear, for the first time, the voices of people who aren’t here …including the voices of the dead.

Today we listen to the voices of the dead all the time. We listen to songs being sung by singers long gone. But can you imagine what it must have been like the first time that human beings heard the voices of people who were no longer alive?

There’s something about the power of the human voice—divorced from the moving image—that still gets to me. It’s like slow glass for the soul.

In the final year of her life, Chloe started publishing audio versions of some of her blog posts. I find myself returning to them again and again. I can look at pictures of Chloe, I can re-read her writing, I can even watch video …but there’s something so powerful about just hearing her voice.

I miss her so much.

The tide

Thank you to everyone who has donated—or is going to donate—to the Oregon Humane Society in Chloe’s memory.

Thank you to everyone who sent me words of comfort. I really, really appreciate it.

I’ve been surprised by where else I’ve found comfort:

Tomorrow is Monday, the start of the working week. Tomorrow I will go to work. Tomorrow I will, to all outward appearances, carry on as normal.

Except it won’t really be normal. It’s going to be very strange. The world feels very strange to me. A world without Chloe isn’t right. It isn’t normal. A world without Chloe feels wrong. Skewed. Off-kilter.

But I’m going to go into work. I’m going to do some hacking. I’m going to write about code. I’m going to post links related to web design and development. I’m going to get back to organising this year’s dConstruct. (Can you believe that the last time I was IMing with Chloe, I was bitching to her about lacklustre ticket sales? What a fucking joke.)

In short, I’m going to carry on. Even though the world feels wrong. I’m not sure if the world will ever feel right again.

I thought that grief was like a tsunami. It’s unstoppable. It washes over you completely. It flattens you and leaves you battered and bruised. But then it’s over, right?

It turns out that grief is more like the tide. The tsunami was just the first wave. There will be many more.

Over the course of a single day, many a wave will hit me unexpectedly and I’ll find myself weeping …again. Over time, those waves will abate. But grief is fractally tidal. There are longer waves—days, weeks, months, years.

Remy has endured four years of grief and counting:

Time won’t ever heal this hole in our lives. It shouldn’t either.

But he carries on, even though the world is wrong:

You just get stronger. You have to.

It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt anymore. It does. I’m just able to carry that pain and make it mine and part of me, because I’ve learnt how to.

Time doesn’t heal. It just looks that way from the outside in.

So tomorrow I’ll go back to work, and I’ll go back to writing and coding and talking and organising. Perhaps those activities might provide their own comfort.

I know that the tide will never stop, but I hope that it will at least weaken in strength over time.

A world without Chloe is wrong, but that’s the world I live in now. There won’t be a day goes by that I won’t be thinking of her.

For Chloe

We all grieve in different ways. We all find solace and comfort in different places.

There can be solace in walking. There can be comfort in music. Tears. Rage. Sadness. Whatever it takes.

Personally, I have found comfort in reading what others have written about Chloe …but I know Chloe would be really embarrassed. She never liked getting attention.

Chloe must have known that people would want to commemorate her in some way. She didn’t want a big ceremony. She didn’t want any fuss. She left specific instructions (her suicide was not a spur-of-the moment decision).

If you would like to mourn the death—and celebrate the life—of Chloe Weil, she asked that you contribute to one or both of these institutions:

  1. The Oregon Humane Society. This is where Chloe found FACE, her constant companion.
  2. The Internet Archive. Chloe cared deeply about the web and digital preservation.

If you choose to make a donation; thank you. It’s what Chloe wanted.

I still can’t believe she’s gone.

Chloe

I first started hanging out with Chloe at An Event Apart Boston in 2011. We bonded over a shared love of The Go-Betweens amongst other things.

Chloe and me

It was very easy to be in her company. She was inspiring. Literally.

We became conference buddies. Whether it was Build, Brooklyn Beta, Indie Web Camp or New Adventures, we’d inevitably end up sitting next to each other. It didn’t matter how long it had been since we had last seen each other, it always felt like no time had passed at all.

Jeremy and Chloe at lunch Chloe & Jeremy Chloe and Jeremy attendees Brooklyn Beta Jeremy & Chloeamused by Al's stories

Jessica and I spent a day with Chloe and her dad Julius as they showed us around the real Williamsburg when we were in Brooklyn a few years ago. “The Jew Tour” Chloe called it. It was clear that Julius and Chloe had a wonderful relationship—they weren’t just father and daughter; they were best friends.

Jessica, Julius and Chloe

Chloe and I hacked together at Science Hack Day San Francisco last year. It was so much fun, and I know that Chloe found it very empowering. She even gave a demo in public, which was quite an achievement for her; I remember how terrified she was at the thought of just having to introduce herself at Indie Web Camp in Portland a few years back.

IndieWebCamp 2011

I won’t see Chloe again. Chloe killed herself.

When I heard the news, I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe it.

Chloe and I would sometimes communicate online—email, IM, DMs on Twitter—but it was never quite the same as when we were together. I chatted with her just last week. I knew she was sad. I knew that she had many regrets. But I had no idea that she was contemplating suicide.

Now I wonder if there’s something I could have said. Or worse, what if I did say the wrong thing?

I think it’s only natural to look for these kind of causal relationships. “If only I had done X, I could have prevented Y.” But I suspect that the truth is not as simple as that. Still those questions haunt me.

But there’s also comfort. Seeing the overwhelming messages of grief and loss makes me realise how many people cared for Chloe. Even if you only met her briefly, you couldn’t help but be bowled over by her.

Smart, creative, funny, beautiful Chloe Weil.

I want to say how much I’ll miss her, but the truth is that I don’t think I’ve really grasped that she’s gone. I just can’t believe it.